Better than chemo
It was the eyebrows that got me.
Just tufts, really, and only at the very peak. Bright red. Still.
After chemo and radiation and a bone marrow transplant.
His hair has started growing back, more auburn than carrot, and now threaded with grey.
He was painfully thin. He looked somehow…less.
He had lived with the cancer – leukemia – dormant in his body for 11 years. It was supposed to be only two, but somehow, it left him alone.
So he ran. A marathon for every year he was in remission.
That’s how I met him, training for my first marathon for Team in Training, the fundraising arm of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
And then when I trained for my second, we did spin class together. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:45 a.m. He’d always save me a bike.
He loved running. He wasn’t tough to spot: Well over six-foot tall, Howdy Doody ears, bright red hair.
He’d occasionally slow his pace to run with my training partners and me for a few miles.
Always encouraging. Always happy.
IT was inspiring, watching him pound mile after mile, seeing him hit the weights before – and after – our spin class.
“It’s better than chemo,” he’d say, and I wrote it on my arm with Sharpie for my first marathon to remind myself no matter how much it hurt, there were things far worse. Far, far worse.
Today was the first time I saw him since the cancer came back. I had just finished a 4.5 mile run and stopped to grab bagels for the kids. He was heading into the shop.
I tried not to stare.
Twenty-five pounds, he guessed he’d lost. He’d thought he had an ulcer, but it turned out a tumor had started wrapping itself around his stomach.
The eyebrows. So him. So bright on his pale face, drawn face.
He’s back in remission now. Thankfully. Thankfully. But still recovering.
Every year, Team in Training raises a ton of money, much of which goes to cancer research. That means there are new drugs, new protocols, and his cancer could now be gone for good.
It is one thing to read about friends of friends, like beautiful Ashlei, who posted here Monday about her friend with cancer – the friend passed away two days later. Or another friend of a friend’s daughter, who, at age 5, was just diagnosed with an inoperable, malignant brain tumor and has maybe nine months to live.
It’s too much, isn’t it? It’s too much to even think about those we know only through association.
But today, I saw for myself what cancer can do.
I also saw what the spirit can do.
Tall John is walking a half-marathon Feb. 6.
And he raised thousands of dollars.
Because that’s what he does.
He pounds out the miles.